The two-story O-Ku sushi restaurant currently taking shape in Northeast is projected to have multiple bars, a rooftop dining area, and a back entrance via the graffiti-laden alley once finished.
The emerging eatery (1274 Fifth Street NE) marks the latest expansion by the Charleston-based family of restaurants. The debut D.C. location is designed to accommodate 120 diners across two floors, with room for another 40 patrons on a rooftop deck that will look out onto neighboring Union Market.
O-Ku managing partner Kimball Brienza tells Eater the entire restaurant will be punctuated by decor inspired by the surrounding warehouses. So expect to see “a lot of exposed cinder block, darker colored tiles, and some rusted metals.” The sushi room, located in the back, will be dominated by a sushi bar with seating for around a dozen customers. Two deliberate tweaks: a sunken floor behind the bar so the dedicated sushi chefs and customers are roughly on the same level, and a counter devoid of extraneous displays.
“It’s much more personal,” executive chef Bryan Emperor says of the face-to-face interaction the bar is designed to foster. He expects to have five sushi chefs working behind the bar, and predicts another will likely work the custom binchotan grill he’ll use to cook everything from king crab, shrimp, and eel to smoky garnishes. Emperor says the sushi bar will offer omakase-style service as well as a la carte offerings. Reservations are recommended, but walk-ins will also be welcome.
Brienza describes the upstairs lounge as a “Tokyo-style craft cocktail bar.” He envisions serving lots of Japanese whiskies, and plans to offer the same dinner service as downstairs to start. He says he’s working on a late-night menu for post-dinner snacking that would complement the after-hour vibe he’s hoping to cultivate upstairs. Brienza is building toward that goal by setting up a separate entrance at the rear that would lead customers past the spray painted walls of the existing Union Market businesses.
D.C.’s O-Ku is currently scheduled to open in late May.
Scroll down to look inside the evolving space: